How We Turned Our Home Into a Fun Learning Center

When we made the decision to homeschool four of our five children, we knew it would be a big undertaking but we were also very excited about it. Two were in elementary school at the time and two in middle school. Because each pair was close in age, they would be doing very similar curriculums. So I needed to plan for the younger two, as well as for the older two.

Click the link below to read more!


Why I Homeschool My Child with Autism

I have multiple kids on the autism spectrum but it was my oldest who had the most severe symptoms, at least when she was younger. She started therapies in public school at preschool age. In fact, she was three when she got her diagnosis and also started getting speech therapy from the local public school. She was completely non-verbal at the time. She then went to Pre-K, Kindergarten and 1st grade in public school. After 2nd grade, we actually started considering homeschool and this would turn out to be a very good decision, at least for this child and the way she learns.

Read more about Lisa’s decision by clicking the link below.

How to Use Life of Fred Math Books

How to Use Life of Fred Math Books

Life of Fred math books saved my homeschool!

That may sound dramatic but it’s true. My oldest daughter and I struggled and struggled to find the right math curriculum. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many mistakes I made in this process. Some of those mistakes were sticking to a curriculum that wasn’t working for her for two full years because everyone else said how great it was. My daughter was miserable and frustrated and I was miserable and frustrated. And, at the end of the two years, she was no further in math than when we started. By the time she was in “tenth grade” (I use that term loosely and my fellow homeschoolers know why), she was still two years behind and had 3 more years to go.

Screen-Shot-2015-10-22-at-4.04.41-PMEnter Life of Fred. I accidentally came across Life of Fred Math books in my Internet travels. The concept of teaching math as a story was fascinating to me. My daughter was an excellent reader and the first book wasn’t expensive at all, so I figured “Why not?” and bought the first book.

What happened next was nothing short of amazing. My daughter devoured the book. And, she actually found math easy! (The is where the clouds parted, the sun started shining and angels started singing) The stories were so entertaining my daughter couldn’t wait to get to the next chapter. I even handed it to my husband one night and he was reading the book and doing the math to get to the next chapter!

If you’re not familiar with Life of Fred math books, the concept is pretty simple. It’s math explained as a story. No, not “story problems” like you and I had in school. This is the story of Fred. Fred is a 5 year math genius, teaching mathematics at Kittens University; however, even though he’s smart, he is a 5 year old and has to deal with common childhood struggles like buying a bicycle, ordering a pizza and so forth. Each chapter in “Fred’s life” really addresses a particular math concept. Throughout the chapter, Fred plays with math. Math practice for students comes in at the “Your Turn to Play” sections, sprinkled throughout the chapter. At the end of each chapter there is a “bridge” to get to the next part of the story. The “bridge” is made up of 10 questions. If your child doesn’t get the required number of questions right to cross the bridge, it’s okay. There’s more bridges!


As you can imagine, we were pretty despondent, staring down 5 years of math to complete with only 3 years to complete it. Because I was concerned about her foundation in math, I started her even earlier in the series and you know what? She completed 6 years of math in just 3 years. This wasn’t because we spent hours and hours each day working through traditional math curriculum. It was because the Life of Fred series. These books are interesting, engaging, make math completely approachable and fun!

When I say “Life of Fred saved my homeschool,” I mean it. It saved my sanity, helped my daughter graduate with a solid foundation in math and gave her confidence!

With all of that said, I am more than happy to present the following buyers guide to the Life of Fred series, by Educents.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Complete Life of Fred Buyer's Guide - by

So, why are the Life of Fred books gaining popularity? The books follow Fred Gauss, a child prodigy math genius, during his exciting adventures which encounter every day math situations. Children actually want to read these books.

Your child can start using these books when it’s time to learn how to read, and your child can continue learning with Fred all the way to college! For a complete overview of the entire collection, check out each series of books below.

Click a title to learn more about each series in the Life of Fred collection:

Life of Fred Beginning Readers Series

Life of Fred Buyer's Guide

If your kiddo is just starting to learn to read, add these Life of Fred readers to your at-home library. They are fun to read over and over together. Incorporate Fred in your early reading lessons! The complete set consists of 18 books. Each book contains 32 pages.

Who is it for? Beginning readers (ages 4 and up)

Concepts covered: counting, using a compass, patience, days of the week, colors, shapes, how to make mashed potatoes, how to build a house, and more.

Titles included in the set: Blue, Bus, Lake, Potato Dreams, Ducks, Rain, Mud, Night, Dawn, House, Windows, Kitchen, Electricity, Dinner, Evening, Garden, Peach, and Going Home

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More resources:
Fred Beginning Reader Tips Fred Beginning Reader Tips

Life of Fred Elementary Math Series

Buyer's Guide Life of Fred Blog Post (2)

Life Of Fred is like no other math program out there. It’s a story that begins with book one, and continues all the way through high school. It includes every other subject, such as science, history, geography, and more. Each book contains short, 4 to 6-page chapters, and usually is less than 20 chapters per book. This makes it possible for each child to go at a pace comfortable for them.

Who is it for? Kindergarten to 4th grade

Concepts covered: time, types of numbers, geometry, measurement, facts about stars, morse code, geography, adjectives & verbs, patterns, functions, sheet music, seven wonders of the world, math poems, percents, numbers vs. numerals, division, slope of a line, graphing, notation, the improper use of seat belts, how to prove you are not a duck, reducing fractions, and so much more.

Titles in this series: Apples, Butterflies, Cats, Dogs, Edgewood, Farming, Goldfish, Honey, Ice Cream, Jelly Beans

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More about the Elementary Math Books:

  • Life of Fred Elementary Math books are discounted on
  • “This is my first year home schooling and I wish I had found Fred earlier. My son loves to read, so Life of Fred makes math a cinch to teach now.” -Shanna, homeschooler
  • “I see a light shining bright from within my son that was almost extinguished completely. As he watched me place the order for the complete elementary set of Life Of Fred, I said ‘I can’t wait to see how Fred starts, and I want to see how it ends too, so be ready to order more!’ I smiled and assured him that not only would Fred be part of his learning as long as he desired, but that Fred would be gift wrapped for Christmas presents this year for his niece and nephew, my 2 grandchildren. No more costly potholes for this family!!” -Janet, homeschooler
  • “My granddaughter, who truly dislikes math, always wants to start the day with Fred. I have to stop her after four chapters. She would do the entire book in a day if allowed. I never thought I could use math class as a reward! And she is learning besides.” -Bette, homeschooler
  • Life of Fred Math Books in Carisa’s Homeschool
  • The Complete Guide to Using Life of Fred Homeschool Math
  • Featured on Cathy Duffy’s 102 Top Picks
  • Samples: Apples, Butterflies, Cats

Life of Fred Intermediate Math Series

Life of Fred Buyer's Guide - Educents

Designed for students under age 10, but already finished the Life of Fred elementary book series. Best for students who can add, subtract, and who understand multiplication and division.

Who is it for? 3rd to 7th grade

Concepts covered: Milliliters, writing numerals in checks ($4000 and not $40.00), idioms, 1/4 + 1/4 +1/4 = 3/4, elapsed time, metaphors, milligrams and pounds, rounding numbers, three-eights of 19,416, and more!

Titles in this series: Kidneys, Liver, Mineshaft

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More about the Intermediate Math Books:

  • Life of Fred Intermediate Math books are discounted on
  • “I was not so sure on these books. I heard a lot of good reviews but after we got them, just skimming through I wasn’t sure my 9 year old daughter would like them. I was WRONG! she really likes them! They move at a pace she likes and being one continuous story about Fred’s life keeps her interested and entertained. We will be back for more soon. She just finished Kidneys and is now on liver.” -Melisa W., Homeschooler
  • Samples: Kidneys, Liver, Mineshaft

Life of Fred Intro to Algebra Series

Life of Fred Buyer's Guide - Educents

If your student can solve these equations: 5 + 8, 8 – 5, 7 times 8, 6231 divided by 93, then he or she is ready for the Fractions title. It also might be time for you to begin using a very basic calculator to complete these lessons.

Who is it for? 6th to 12th grade

Concepts covered: less than, cardinal and ordinal numbers, adding and subtraction fractions, lines of symmetry, geometric figures, circumference, reducing fractions, sets and subsets, probability, consecutive numbers, repeating decimals, area of a triangle, square roots, ordered pairs, and more!

Titles in this series: Fractions, Decimals and Percents

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More about the Intro to Algebra Books:

Life of Fred Pre-Algebra Series

Life of Fred Buyer's Guide - Educents

Fred does physics before algebra. What’s the difference between math and physics? In this series, students use math and science to solve quirky, real world scenarios – all while having fun with Fred of course!

Who is it for? 3rd to 7th graders

Concepts covered: numerals, area of a rectangle, the speed of light, nine forms of energy, Hooke’s law, static versus kinetic friction, photosynthesis, metric system, Gregorian calendar, conversion factors, unit analysis, freedom versus liberty, steps in solving word problems, venn diagrams, germination of seeds, digestion, negative numbers, whole numbers, chromosomes, DNA, circumference of a circle, and more!

Titles in this series: Pre-Algebra 0 with Physics, Pre-Algebra 1 with Biology, and Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics

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More about the Pre-Algebra books:

Life of Fred High School Math Series

Life of Fred Buyer's Guide - Educents

Life of Fred is preparing for college! In this series, students learn algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and a few other lessons from Fred. The Zillions of Practice books are keyed directly to the chapters and topics in the associated book. Each problem is worked out in complete detail to offer additional help for a student who may have gotten stuck along Fred’s mathematical journey.

Who is it for? 8th to 12th grade

Concepts covered: infinite numbers, ratios, graphs, plotting points, averages, multiplying polynomials, solving fractional equations, Pythagorean theorem, milkshake marketing, absolute value, surface area of a cone, imaginary numbers, slopes of perpendicular lines, complex fractions, linear equations, Cramer’s rule, ellipses, graphing in three dimensions, geometric sequences, Pascal’s Triangle, right triangles, quadrilaterals, entrepreneurship, geography of Kansas, piano music, sines, cosines, functions of two angles, a preview of calculus, and more!!

Titles included in the series: Beginning Algebra, Zillions of Practice Problems for Beginning Algebra, Advanced Algebra, Zillions of Practice Problems for Advanced Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry

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More about the High School Math books:

Life of Fred High School Language Arts Series

Life of Fred Buyer's Guide - Educents

Each book contains 19 cohesive lessons on grammar, language, writing, common mistakes, and basically the entire English language. The creator suggests doing these four books once every year during your students’ high school years.

Who is it for? 5th to 12th graders

Concepts covered: the seven parts of speech, punctuation, spelling, similes, silent letters, rules for making outlines, the difference between a metaphor and metonymy, and so much more.

Titles included in the series: Australia, Begin Teaching, Classes, Dreams

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More about the Language Arts books:

Life of Fred Chemistry

Life of Fred Buyer's Guide - Educents

In a single lecture hour, Fred completes a whole year of high school chemistry.

Who is it for? 8th grade to college

Concepts covered: exponents, atoms, conversion factors, mass vs. weight, Avogadro’s number, Kelvin scale, atomic number, isotopes, compounds, noble gasses, finding the atomic mass, early chemistry, oxidation numbers, balancing equation, and more!

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More about the Chemistry book:

  • Life of Fred Chemistry book is discounted on
  • “It’s solid science presented in a way that’s understandable, not intimidating, and fun. You learn math, you learn history and you learn science, all through the Life of Fred – through his experiences and teachings.” -Lisa, Homeschooler
  • “It reads like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but the chemistry is solid.” -Lisa’s husband, PhD in Analytical Chemistry
  • Sample of the Chemistry Book

Life of Fred College Math Series

Life of Fred Buyer's Guide - Educents

This series is geared toward advanced high school math students, students preparing for college, or any adult who wants to brush up on their math skills while reading fun stories. Students will learn calculus, statistics, linear algebra, and advanced math puzzles (equations, not word problems).

Who is it for? 9th grade to adults

Concepts covered: functions, speed, slope, curvature, polar coordinates, Bayes’ Theorem, probability, descriptive statistics, field guides, solving systems of equations, vector spaces, linear functionals, math theory, abstract arithmetic, and more!

Titles included in the series: Calculus, Statistics, Linear Algebra, and Five Days of Upper Division Math

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More about the College Math books:

Life of Fred Financial Choices

Life of Fred Buyer's Guide - Educents

Let Fred help you teach your children about financial management, decisions, and choices. It’s very likely that you, the adult, will pick up a tip or two while teaching.

Who is it for? Useful for middle school kids all the way to adults

Concepts covered: entrepreneurship, spending, investing, retirement, debt, calculating interest, how to start a business, insurance, taxes, real estate, successful spending habits, stocks, mortgages, REITS, mutual funds, and more!

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More about the Financial Choices book:

the 4 components of really good writing

The Four Components of Really Good Writing

This is a guest post by Jennifer Courtney.

the 4 components of really good writing

Is our entire civilization in danger because of our impoverished language? Is text speak a sign that we are losing the ability to construct and communicate complex ideas through written language? In a philosophy class, I led a group of high school students to come up with a thorough definition of man (as in mankind). After thinking, discussing, reading, wrestling with ideas, and refining, we came up with something like this: “Man is a rational being made up of mind, body, and soul which uses language to communicate.” Communicating our ideas through written and spoken language is one of the important differences between man and the animals. (For fun sometime, ask a committed Darwinist about the evolution of language.)

If language is a distinctive characteristic of humans, then should we not be concerned about preserving it? My teenage son often mocks me because I continue to use complete sentences, full spelling, and accurate punctuation in my overly long text messages. I continue to claim that effective communication is a hallmark of civilization and that the reduction to three-letter mystical abbreviations is a sign of its demise.

Add to these changes the fact that social media has sharply reduced the length of our communications, which makes it impossible to communicate complex ideas through these media. I constantly have to revise my Facebook statuses because I have used too many characters. This summer, my colleagues and I were joking about our attempt to Tweet quotes from David Hicks (author of Norms & Nobility) and Tracy Lee Simmons (author of Climbing Parnassus). Like Saint Paul, it takes both of these authors an entire page to communicate a single complex thought. There is just no way to break it up into a sound-byte for Twitter.

I recently read that students have been using PowerPoint presentations to deliver book reports. The principal was impressed with the graphic presentations designed by these eighth-grade students until a school media specialist pointed out that the “book reports” contained an average of seventy-seven words. It is difficult to conceive how the students could have thought much about the characters in the novels or the lessons that the characters learned, much less about how to apply those lessons to their own lives.

My own education was influenced by what we would now consider to be a primitive technology. During my junior and senior years in high school, my school (the largest public high school in my state) installed a state-of-the-art writing lab. At least once a week, English students paraded into the lab. We typed our papers into the computers and received back printouts on tractor-feed paper. The printouts gave us four different critiques to use in writing our final essays. Looking back, I am amused that we did not simply save the money, stay in the classroom, and exchange papers with one another for feedback.

So, how can we reclaim the dying art of good writing? I believe there area few simple skills that we can recover from previous generations to train our children to communicate complex ideas well to those around them. First, our students need to read voraciously. Reading quality literature builds vocabulary,trains the brain to recognize, and later to write, complex sentences, and provides a storehouse of experiences and ideas about which to write. Second, our students must learn grammar. It is difficult for them to write a complex sentence if they do not know what a complex sentence is. Third, we must train them to think carefully about issues and ideas. Finally, they can wrestle these ideas onto paper often.

This summer, I joined a group of my colleagues at Leigh Bortins’ home for a writing week. Prior to the meeting, we each selected a topic and did a bit of research. We then spent the week together divided into quiet times of reading, reflecting, and writing, interspersed with discussion and editing. Across the course of the week, we all remembered a lot about the craft of writing. One of the most important things we recalled was that there are four relatively distinct stages that must be completed by writers of all ages.

The first is that there must be an input of knowledge. Because we planned the week about six months in advance, each of us had read several books about our topic before we convened. Each participant had taken careful notes on the topics so that we had compiled a large file of ideas before coming together. For any writer, this is an important step.

Our students input ideas by reading and by memorizing. They need a ready storehouse of quality information. According to Greek mythology, writers, poets, and musicians were inspired by the muses. Interestingly, the mother of the muses was memory.

Our children need a rich storehouse of facts, poems, and stories to draw upon when they write. I was delighted the other day when one of my students compared Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to the movie Valkyrie in which German officers attempted to assassinate Hitler. His understanding of both has been enriched, and he can communicate the complex comparison of these two historical events to others in his next essay.

After gaining ideas, it is important to refine them through group discussion. Each morning during our writer’s retreat, we gathered to discuss our topics. We added the knowledge from our research to the new ideas from our discussions and began to truly understand the ideas about which we were writing. I have taught a Shakespeare course for three years, and every time I teach the course I learn something new about his plays because I have the chance to discuss them with a new group of students. Have your children read great literature and discuss it around the dinner table with the whole family. Form a book club and have them discuss great books together with friends. Teens particularly enjoy the time with good food, good friends, and good conversation.

After students have had a chance to read great books and refine their ideas through discussion, it is time to communicate their ideas through writing, a process that requires some struggle and a lot of discipline. I have had a lot of time to think about study skills lately as I have been taking Henle Latin Second Year alongside some very bright high school students. The primary lesson for me has been that thinking clearly and expressing oneself well require hard work. This is just as true in Algebra as it is in Chemistry or Latin or writing.

During our writing retreat this summer, the research and discussion steps were easy and pleasurable. The hard work began as we each sat down to write. After we spent two days working almost all day on our drafts, we exchanged them with one another. Then, we incorporated one another’s suggestions into our final drafts. Students should practice the art of composing a good sentence, then crafting a quality paragraph, and finally of designing a full-blown essay or research paper.

It is hard work to effectively communicate complex ideas to a reader, but it is a most important discipline if we seek to turn others toward wisdom and toward an appreciation of what is true and good and beautiful. We must know the Truth,learn to articulate Truth well, and present it in a way that is irresistibly compelling to others.

Jennifer Courtney and her husband have been homeschooling classically since 2003. She currently serves as the Director of Training and Development for Classical Conversations. She is the co-author of the Classical Acts and Facts History Cards series and of the book Classical, Christian Education Made Approachable. Jennifer writes for the Classical Conversations Writer’s Circle as well as a variety of homeschool and other education websites and magazines. She and her husband Tim live in Oklahoma, where they home educate their four children.


  1. This research was cited in Trelease, Jim. TheRead-Aloud Handbook, sixth edition, New York:Penguin Books, 2006, p. 154.

Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

get scholarship ivy league schools

How to Get Scholarships to Ivy League Schools

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Hartley.

get scholarship ivy league schools

College tuition has increased almost 500% over the last twenty years, causing many families to conclude that a college degree is out of reach. While the sticker shock can be intimidating at first, there are many ways to approach the process strategically and intentionally so that the student ends up with options that are optimal and affordable. The first step in knowing how to tackle college funding is to understand the various “buckets” of money available to students: the Need Bucket and Merit Bucket. Colleges usually have funds available in each of these categories and can pull from one or both when putting together a student’s aid package. Knowing which colleges offer the most generous aid and which bucket they favor is critical when choosing the colleges to pursue for admission.

Prevailing thought among most families is that state schools will be more affordable than private schools because the state schools claim lower tuition than private schools, which may have a sticker price that is twice as high. However, in many instances families will find that their out-of-pocket costs are far less at the private schools, once all merit and need-based aid is factored in. When consulting with a student and his/her parents, I advise that the student start by applying to one or two state schools, just to cover the bases in case no merit or need-based funds are offered. After that, I encourage them to apply to private schools for which they may be eligible for merit scholarships or generous need-based funds. Ultimately, most students end up applying to five to ten schools.

TheMerit Bucket represents funds that come out of the university’s own pockets (endowment) and that are used to recruit students of great academic merit, as determined by exceptional SAT or ACT scores, high class rank or GPA, or exceptional community service or talents in music or the arts. Merit funds are truly based on the student’s merits, not typically factoring in financial need. These scholarships are used as incentives to recruit top students to enroll.

Students can position themselves for these merit scholarships by building a resume throughout high school that shows their passion and commitment to their chosen subjects and interests, community service projects, clubs, arts, etc. Colleges especially favor students who have also demonstrated leadership in their chosen areas of interest. Athletic scholarships are also a form of merit scholarships, but since the process of securing an athletic scholarship is an entirely different process than all other merit scholarships, they are not included as part of this discussion.

Overall, academic merit scholarships are typically offered to students who exceed the average freshman profile with respect to SAT/ACT scores and grade point averages for a given school. Private colleges and universities typically have more generous programs for allocating academic merit scholarships than state schools do. Unlike most state schools, private schools often conduct formal scholarship competitions on campus for students to vie for scholarships, ranging from small merit awards up to full rides that cover tuition, room and board, books, fees, study abroad, and even a laptop. While state colleges and universities certainly have some merit scholarship funds available to offer, those funds are doled out at the discretion of the admissions staff or administration, without an on-campus competition and interviews. Due to the overwhelming number of applicants, a comprehensive merit scholarship competition on campus would be impractical and a logistical nightmare for a large state school.

Even though the methods by which the merit awards are given out can differ between the state schools and private schools, their motives remain the same: to bring in outstanding students. By recruiting above average students, colleges will see increases in their typical freshman profile.

The Need Bucket represents a collection of funds available to students based on the family income and assets. Need-based aid includes federal grants of free money, student loans from federal or private sources, on-campus employment, and even grant money provided out of the school’s own private endowment. Need-based aid is less under the control of the student and has more to do with the family’s income and tax information. Families can maximize how much money they get from this bucket by filing FAFSA promptly each year (as soon after January 1 as possible) at and by candidly sharing any extra financial concerns with the financial aid office of their college. Often, when colleges know more about extenuating family circumstances, they will do more to help.

Very competitive schools such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, etc. do not typically offer merit scholarships because they believe all of their students are so exceptional that all students would deserve merit scholarships. Those Ivy League schools do not need to use scholarship money to recruit the best and brightest students since they already get those applicants. Instead, the top-ranked schools favor giving exceptionally generous financial aid based solely on financial need. Families who do not qualify for federal grants based on need may still find themselves recipients of generous need-based aid from the selective private schools. For example, a family with an annual income of $60,000 per year may find that they do not qualify for any need-based grants from the government or state school. However, if that same student were admitted to Princeton, he/she would immediately qualify for a Princeton grant that covers full tuition and room and board. Even families with incomes of $120,000 automatically receive school grants to full tuition and 18% of room and board.

It is not just the Ivies that offer such generous need-based aid.Williams, Amherst, Vassar, Columbia, Vanderbilt, Duke and Davidson are just a few schools that also generously cover a family’s need. For example, Davidson College, just outside Charlotte, North Carolina, is a top-ranked school that has committed to making attendance affordable to all students. Once a student is admitted, the family files the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The government uses that application to generate a Student Aid Report (SAR). That report shows a figure called the family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), a dollar amount that the government says the family could afford to spend to educate that student. While Davidson’s total cost of attendance (tuition, room, board, etc.) is about $50,000 per year, Davidson charges a family only the amount of their EFC and covers all remaining funds through a grant from the Davidson Trust. No loans are ever included in a student’s aid package. As a result, a student who may go into heavy debt to pay $20,000 to attend a state school could find himself paying little to nothing to graduate debt-free from a selective private school that has a much higher sticker price.

Many of my former clients, who would have gone into substantial debt to attend a local state school, are attending schools such as Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Georgetown, Columbia, Duke, and Davidson for free or for very little cost. The trick to this strategy is simply positioning to be a good candidate for admission. Once admitted, the funding process is typically straightforward. To position for admissions, students must seek out ways to set themselves apart academically and in other areas such as leadership, the arts, community service, and pursuit of their passions. Many of these schools offer admission to less than 10% of their applicants each year, so it is wise for Ivy-hopefuls to cast their net wide by applying to many schools, remembering to have a safety school or two in the mix.

Since my own daughter was a senior this past school year, I am often questioned regarding how her college process went.I welcome the question, because her case exemplifies the points detailed in this article. Even though she was not the valedictorian or a gifted athlete, she excelled in her passion of writing, became editor of the newspaper and literary magazine, earned numerous national writing awards, and learned to master the SAT early on. As a result, she ended up with four full-ride offers to nationally ranked private universities, totaling over $700,000. Of all of her options, we would have ended up paying far more to send her to Clemson University (her state school option), even with about $10,000/year scholarship funds, than we would have spent to send her to her other top choices. Once again, the $50,000/year private schools ended up being far more affordable than the state school, costing half as much.

So, the final message is that families must understand that financial aid can be based on financial need, academic merit,or exceptional talent in the arts or athletics. Families need to bear in mind that they may qualify for need-based aid from the most expensive private schools even though they do not qualify for need-based aid by government standards. Once the financial aid office makes an offer to the family, which includes all need-based and merit-based offers, a family can respond to the financial aid office with additional information that may be factored in to lessen their out-of-pocket expenses. Since there are so many factors at play with respect to the final amount a family will pay for college, it is wise to strategically pursue a variety of options, including state and private institutions, and to make a commitment only after all of the offers are on the table. With hard work and well-informed strategies, students can still get an outstanding education at an affordable price.

Elizabeth Hartley, owner of Scholarship Gold Consulting, funded her entire undergraduate and graduate school education through full merit scholarships and now judges for many privately awarded scholarships in the Southeast.She works with private clients, homeschool associations, foundations, and numerous schools to help students maximize their options for college admissions and funding. To receive her free monthly E-Newsletter or to request that she teach a workshop series in your area, visit

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

homeschool and toddlers

3 Sanity-Saving Strategies for Homeschooling With Toddlers


homeschool and toddlers

Let’s take a look at the best ways to be a great parent for your toddler, while still devoting a good portion of your day to teach and train older kids at home.

Do you get nervous when it gets really quiet around your house? Do you have to put markers, glue, and other creative art supplies up on a high shelf? Do step stools located in unusual places around the house make you cringe? If you have answered yes to two or more of these questions, then you must have a toddler living in your home. Toddlers are a joy, there is no doubt about that, but they can also create havoc if left alone with nothing productive to do for too long . . . Parenting young children is not exactly easy. Any mother or father can tell you this!

It requires a good deal of consistency, steadfastness, and compassion on the part of the parent. When said parent is also a homeschool mom, it requires an extra dose of creativity, organization, and determination just to juggle your many responsibilities. But these are the very qualities that you bring to the homeschool table anyway, so let’s take a look at the best ways to be a great parent for your toddler, while still devoting a good portion of your day to teach and train older kids at home.

There are three strategies to use when homeschooling with toddlers in your home:

  1. Keep them busy.
  2. Divide and conquer.
  3. Get creative.

Let’s look at each one, as you will want to employ a combination of these sanity-saving strategies in your home to gain the most enjoyment and satisfaction with both your older and younger children.

Keep Him Busy

Are you ready to start homeschooling your toddler? Guess what? It’s not necessary! He will learn so much just by playing and listening and talking and interacting with his family. If you want to give him a head start in academics, then take the time to read, read, read to your little ones—in the morning, before nap time, and before bed. Additionally, talk to him about what you are doing during the day and let him help you when it is safe to do so. As an example, you can count outloud the number of forks that you will need for the dinner table and then let him put them on.But please, don’t pull out the workbooks just yet! Your toddler will learn far more just from spending time with her family members in attentive conversation and meaningful work and play. However,that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plan special activities for her so that she can be part of “school” too.

  1. Have a special school box for your toddler that he uses only during school time. It may include special crayons to be used during handwriting time, snap cubes to be used during math time, etc.Our special preschool box is filled with individually zip lock-bagged, age-appropriate*supplies and activity ideas, such as these:
  • Puzzles (large and few pieces for little hands)
  • Large nuts and bolts (from the hardware store)*
  • Letter and number magnets (for the refrigerator)
  • Paint brush and water (to be used on cardboard)
  • Small containers with lids (with surprises inside)
  • Yarn and sandpaper (yarn sticks to create designs)
  • Hole-punched cards and shoelaces for sewing
  • Magnets and paper clips or screws*
  • Matching games and card sets
  • Pipe cleaners and pony beads*
  • Paper and crayons*
  • Flashcards
  • Stickers*

*Note: Please use discretion. If your child is going to chew, bite, or swallow something (such as beads or crayons or paper clips), don’t put them in the box! This box is to be set aside for use only during school time so that its contents remain fresh and new for the child.

  1. Offer special high-chair activities during school time. Put shaving cream in a gallon-size zip lock bag and let the child “write” with a finger on it and erase by squishing it around. Offer finger painter play dough. Fill a large, plastic, lidded container with dry beans or split peas and let your child use scoops or measuring cups to pour them from one container to another. Yes, you’ll have to clean up the area later, but it may buy you 30–45 minutes of teaching time with another child.Additional ideas for high-chair time can be found
  1. Put the step stool up to the kitchen sink, close the drain, and run a drizzle of water into the sink along with a little bit of dish soap. Give your child some plastic cups, bowls and spoons to “wash.” He’ll feel glad to know that he is helping with the chores. A turkey baster and soapy water can keep a child entertained for a while too.
  1. Check out book and tape/CD kits from the library. Your toddler can listen to the story through headphones while“reading” the book.
  1. Read aloud to your older children right outside the open bathroom door while your younger child plays in the tub.Or just read in the bathroom. Strange perhaps, but safe!
  1. Make some special toys available during school time only. Rotate these toys so that they are always fresh and interesting.

Divide and Conquer

  1. While working on a specific subject with one older child, have the other older child play with the youngest child in her room. This is a special playtime for the two of them. Then switch for the other sibling to have this special time.
  1. Ask Dad to teach certain subjects. My husband teaches science and logic to the older kids. This frees me up to spend undivided time with my younger children.
  1. Have middle grade students do certain subjects independently. After giving instruction, send them off to work on the assignment on their own.
  1. Hire a homeschool teen (or ask Grandma) to come over and play with the youngest child while you “get serious”with the older children.
  1. Swap school time (or toddler time)with another homeschool mom. For example,you teach a subject to her older kids (along with yours) while she plays with the younger ones. Or vice versa. That way each of you can have uninterrupted school time with your older kids and/or playtime with your younger ones.

Get Creative With School Time

  1. Wait until your toddler’s nap time to work on school subjects with your other children.
  1. Work on some school subjects at night while Dad is home to play with or put the youngest to bed.
  1. Do a fun activity with your toddler before you begin school. This should help her to be more content to play on her own or to listen to books quietly for a while as you give attention to the other children.
  1. Don’t feel like you have to do every subject every day. Combine subjects or possibly double up on some school work on certain days when the baby takes a longer nap or is playing more contentedly.That way, you can do less on other days! For example, combine geography with history, or do a whole week’s worth of science on one day.
  1. Be willing to do some schoolwork on Saturday when Dad is home.
  1. Use smaller amounts of time for school. A block of four hours may not be possible at this time, but 45 minutes to an hour at a time may be doable.
  1. Read aloud during breakfast and lunch (while your youngest child is contentedly eating in his high chair).
  1. Understand that your homeschool day will not look like a classroom day during this season of your family’s life.Maybe it never will. And this is okay! Enjoy this season of your child’s life,knowing that it will not last forever and that you are not alone. Your toddler will be at this stage only for a couple of short years, and the next thing you know, he’ll be in kindergarten. They are only young for such a short time, and it is a precious,precious time. Don’t wish it away!Make every effort to stay flexible with your schedule and your to-do list,as toddlers change from one day to the next. Just when one strategy may be working for your family, he’ll change and you’ll need to try something else to keep the school day flowing. In other words, what worked yesterday might notwork today! Above all, give him lots of hugs and kisses during your school day,which will reassure you both that he is not an interruption but a blessing.

This is a guest post by Terri Johnson. Terri Johnson, along with her husband Todd, founded Knowledge Quest, Inc., publisher of history and geography materials. Knowledge Quest is well known for producing mapping programs such as Map Trek and Time Trek, as well as timelines, historical biographies, geography curriculum, software, and even mobile apps. Visit Knowledge Quest at .

Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.


16 Mistakes Weary Homeschool Moms Make



The baby will not stop crying,your toddler is fighting with the preschooler, your second-grader refuses to work on anything without you, the fourth-grader asked permission to go to the bathroom an hour ago, you’re late getting your sixth-grader to dance class, and your husband wants to know what’s for dinner. These are the days we just want to go back to bed, the days we lash out in anger or dissolve into tears or wonder why we ever thought homeschooling was a good idea. Every homeschool mom has times when she is weary of it all, even with an only child.

By the grace of God, these days usually pass. But make these mistakes and a bad day can become serious burnout, threatening the future of your homeschool. Avoid them and you can be happily homeschooling again much sooner.

  1. Neglecting Devotional Time

The number-one reason we moms become overwhelmed is because we’ve become self-sufficient Christians. We weren’t designed to do all things in our own strength but rather in His strength. Even with babies, late nights, and busyness, we must treat time in prayer and the Word like it’s as vital as eating. It absolutely is!

  1. Not Leaning on Your Husband

We are called to be our husband’s help meets, but our husbands are also called to care for us. How often my husband has rightly pointed out that I’m doing too many of the wrong things—like making a meal for a new mom when I had just had a baby myself! Pray that God would speak through your husband to encourage and guide you.

  1. Keeping an Erratic Sleep Schedule

One of the blessings of homeschooling is a flexible schedule. That blessing can become a curse, however, when we don’t sleep at roughly the same time each day. Immune suppression, irritability, and poor functioning result, even with the same amount of sleep. Use an alarm to remind yourself to go to bed on time.

  1. Too Many Outside Activities

Another blessing of homeschooling is the variety of opportunities for our families to participate in. Again, this blessing can become a serious source of stress one activity to another. If we don’t cut back and focus on homeschooling, illness will make the choice for us.

  1. Unrealistic School Schedule

If you’re new to homeschooling or perfectionistic, you may have expectations of your homeschool that no one could meet. If you show your ideal schedule to a happy veteran homeschooler and she laughs, you’ll know you need to get real. Assume every lesson will take twice as long as you think, and you’ll end up with the margin you need.

  1. Abandoning Routine

Doing too much is a common source of weariness, but the answer isn’t to give up your routine altogether. Without structure, your house and schooling will quickly plunge into chaos. Keep your basic routine intact and adopt a more relaxed attitude so that you and your children feel less pressure.

  1. Not Having Children Do Chores

Whether it’s because you’re too particular about the house or because you think it’s too much bother, failing to expect children to do chores is a fast track to burnout.This is a subject that must be parent directed. A great resource for training is Managers of Their Chores.

  1. Neglecting to Discipline

When we’re weary, it’s easy to let the kids get away with not doing their work or other bad behavior. Failing to discipline will only give us more grief long-term.Planning consequences for certain infractions in advance can help. Try the If-Then Chart from Doorposts.

  1. Not Utilizing Social Support

My friends who have their children in parochial schools help and support one another. How much more does a homeschooling mother need encouragement? Be sure to include in your weekly schedule time that allows you to talk with moms you can relate to.

  1. Too Little Exercise

When we’re tired, the last thing we feel like doing is exercising. Yet, it’s the key to having the energy we need to accomplish all we have to do. Exercise combined with proper nutrition reduces the risk of illness and most chronic diseases. Can you really afford not to exercise? You can benefit from as little as 15 minutes a day of vigorous activity.

  1. Misusing Substances

Fatigue can trick us into thinking we’re hungry, when actually those unneeded calories will only make us feel even more sluggish. Chronic use of caffeine and sleeping pills only masks symptoms and negatively impacts health in the long run. If you avoid making mistakes 1–10, you will find you no longer need your food or drug of choice.

  1. No Time for Other Pursuits

Over-commitment can prompt us to demand even more of ourselves in service to our families and others. The truth is that we will accomplish more if we take some time to pursue a hobby we love. Choose an activity for which your efforts will be praised—and have fun!

  1. No Limits on Free Time

While a little time for Mom is a good thing, unlimited time is not. Our hobbies and social activities can begin to spillover into time that should be reserved for school and our husbands. Set a timer and ask a Godly friend to hold you accountable for wise use of your free time.

  1. Not Planning Ahead

When you don’t have a plan for schooling,meals, or outside responsibilities,you’re going to be stressed and others will be too. Schedule time to plan the upcoming week and each evening, review your agenda for the next day.

  1. Eliminating Fun

We can punish our children and ourselves for not being disciplined by removing the optional, enjoyable activities in our homeschools. This is a mistake!Don’t try to make up for months of lack-luster schooling in a week. Maintain a reasonable pace, including time for what you all love, and you’ll be back on track more quickly.

  1. Not Asking for Help

God alone can provide the help we each need, but He chooses to give us the gift of participating in the helping. I enjoyed counseling others as a Christian psychologist, but I really love it when fellow homeschool moms ask me for help. Be honest with someone you trust about where you’re struggling, and ask for prayer and counsel.


“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Dr. Melanie Wilson is a Christian psychologist and mother of six who happily left her career thirteen years ago to heed God’s call to homeschool. She is the author of So You’re Not Wonder Woman?and has written a free meal-planning survival guide for weary moms available at her blog, Psychowith6.

Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Space Saving Homeschool Organization - Featured

How to Set up a Homeschool With Very Little Space


Space Saving Homeschool Organization - Featured

You don’t need a whole lot of space to homeschool. One of the beauties of homeschooling is that you can make it work for your unique situation. You don’t need huge desks or bulky bookcases. Instead, the main things you need are creativity and a willingness to adapt. Here are some tips for setting up a homeschool when space is at a premium:

  • Teach Wherever You Are: You don’t need a dedicated schoolroom to homeschool. If you’re dealing with limited space, you can break out the books, the laptop, the worktexts or whatever you intend to use in the kitchen, dining room, living room, or wherever you and your child feel comfortable enough for learning to take place. Switch rooms as you see fit for a change of scenery. In nice weather, head out to the porch or the park. It’s your homeschool, so you don’t have to live up to anyone else’s standards.
  • Think About Storage: When you don’t have a lot of space to work with, creative, efficient storage is key. The more books and other school aids you have lying around, the more cramped your space will seem. Use your closet space. If your closets are large enough, you can place bookcases in them or even install closet organizers to store books, workbooks, pens, pencils, papers and other school supplies. If you don’t have much closet space, use stackable plastic bins to store the items you need. You can stack such bins in a corner of a room to keep them out of the way. Install shelving units if necessary to have more space for storage.
  • Use Technology: Using a computer and printer can open up a world of educational resources, and as a bonus, you don’t have to find new places to store all of them. Just log onto the Internet to find everything from lessons and reading materials to videos and interactive activities for your child. Print worksheets as you need them and store completed work in folders or files you stash in a drawer or closet. Laptops don’t take up a lot of space, but if you need to use a desktop computer, a corner desk can keep it out of the way. Don’t forget that televisions, DVD players, MP3 players and eReaders can be used as educational tools as well.
  • Provide Work Space: No matter where you choose to teach, make sure there’s a decent space for your child to work when needed. He can listen to a history lesson on the couch, but when the time comes to practice his letters or write an essay, he will need a clean, flat surface with adequate lighting and a chair that supports his back and adjusts, if necessary, to allow his feet to rest flat on the floor.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need a dedicated schoolroom or have to keep up with what the homeschooler down the street is doing. Instead, embrace your space and find creative ways to make it work for you.

Have tips for homeschooling in a small space? Share your homeschool ideas in the comments!

Space Saving Homeschool Organization - PF

How to Go From ABC's to Learning to Read - Featured

How to Go from the ABCs to Learning to Read


How to Go From ABC's to Learning to Read - Featured

Learning to read isn’t something that happens overnight for most kids. In fact, it takes hard work and dedication to go from learning the ABCs to learning to read. If your child is in the stage of learning their alphabet and they are eager to learn how to read, then these tips are for you.

Start by learning the alphabet

One of the best ways to go from the ABCs to learning to read is to really get to know the alphabet. Teach your child the alphabet song, the sounds of the alphabet, and the sounds of vowels. Singalongs and ABC videos are a great way to teach your child the ABCs if they are struggling to learn.

Practice putting sounds together

In order to get your child to actually read, they’ll need to learn how to put sounds from the alphabet together. Make up random words with letters and vowels and have them practice. This will help encourage sound fluency. You can also search for these types of sheets online using a search engine.

Sight words can help a child learn to read

If you are stuck on the next step of helping your child learn how to read, focus on sight words. If your child has mastered sounds and connecting sounds together, then sight words will be your next step. Again, a quick search online will reveal pages of sight words for your child to use.

Start reading simple sentences

After your child has mastered the art of learning sight words, allow them to start reading simple sentences. There are very basic books out there that can help your child develop their reading. Start with the simple books and allow your child to master those books. Your child can just keep moving up and up on the reading ladder.

Read books together

Once your child has mastered reading, have them read books to you. Of course you can keep reading books to your child as well. Reading books together helps to develop deeper reading skills and it also helps to develop your child’s imagination even more.

Learning to read isn’t a one size fits all approach. One of the main ingredients for learning to read is to know the alphabet inside and out. Start teaching alphabet concepts to your children early, so they don’t struggle so much with it when it’s time to learn how to read.

How to Go From ABCs to Learning to Read - PF

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